Bio-economy boosters seek support

Canada’s bio-economy is anchored on grain ethanol production, but more needs to be done to move the industry forward.

W. Scott Thurlow, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, said the government should increase the renewable fuel content standard for diesel to two from five percent.

“One reason we’re pushing for five percent renewable diesel is that we already have sufficient domestic capacity to reach two percent,” he told the recent Growing the Margins conference.

Thurlow would also like more support for advanced biofuel, including cellulosic ethanol.

“Unless we can find a way to monetize carbon, that product is going to lag behind in Canada and be drawn to the U.S. where there’s a very rich blenders’ tax credit.”

Thurlow said the United States now exports one billion litres of ethanol a year to Canada. Canadian production stands at 1.8 billion litres.

There’s also a need for greater consumer choice, said Thurlow, who argued consumers should be allowed to drive demand to a greater extent

“In Iowa, there are pumps where with dials you can choose from E-10 to E-85 and as you turn up the dial the price goes down. We don’t have those pumps in Canada,” he said.

“We believe there should be a growing market for biofuels. Consumers should have choice.”

Sean McKay, executive director of Composites Innovation Centre (CIC) in Winnipeg, said increased government involvement is also important to the emerging bio-material industry.

He said Manitoba has a wealth of raw fibres, mainly hemp and flax.

As well, significant investment has been made in research and development for products as varied as vehicle paneling, furniture, building materials and snowboards.

Support is also needed to enable start-up companies to successfully commercialize their operations, he added.

For example, hemp fibre quality needs to be improved while maintaining grain yield. Options include breeding for taller varieties and improving harvest techniques and equipment to optimize fibre quality.

McKay said it’s also difficult for companies to move from research and development to commercialization.

For examples, farmers may be reluctant to supply fibre to a start-up business unless they are guaranteed payment for delivery.

Financial incentives are one way companies can be supported, he said. Another is to help with the product certification process.

McKay said it can take 18 months to two years to certify new products in Canada.

FibreCity — the Prairie Agriculture Fibre Characterization Industrial Technology Capability initiative, has also been beneficial, he said.

Located within CIC’s new facility in Winnipeg, FibreCity is providing research support in plant breeding, processing and, fibre analysis and more.

McKay said fibre analysis is important to deliver products that consistently meet quality standards.

He hoped that FibreCity, which receives federal funding, will become a viable standalone business unit within CIC this year.

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